Casino Blackjack is quite similar to the game played at home with a standard 52-card deck. Although all casinos have their own “house rules” for each table in the pit area, the basic rules of Blackjack still apply. The object in both versions is to beat the dealer by drawing cards whose total value is higher than those of the dealer’s without going over twenty-one points. Most of the major differences relate to the use of multiple decks and procedures instituted to suppress cheating.
Preparing to Play
The game begins with the dealer shuffling the cards. When multiple decks are used, they are all shuffled together. Once the cards have been randomly mixed, the dealer offers one of the players an opportunity to “cut” the cards, by separating the shuffled deck(s) into two parts. In most casinos, this is accomplished by inserting a faceless plastic card (the “cut card”) into the middle of the stack. The cut safeguards both the players and the casino against the possibility of the dealer manipulating the order of the cards—so-called “deck rigging.”
After the cut, the front portion of the deck(s) is placed at the back with the cut card remaining in place at the end of the deck to ensure that the last card cannot be seen. The dealer then inserts another cut card into the deck toward the back of the stack. In the course of play, when this face card is reached, it is time to reshuffle. Whatever hands are currently in play will be the last of the deck.
At tables offering single-deck or double-deck Blackjack, it is customary for the dealer to hold the shuffled cards in the left hand and deal with the right. When 2, 4, 6 or 8 decks are used, they are placed to the dealer’s left in a special box called a “shoe,” similar to those used Baccarat tables. The shoe allows cards to be pulled out easily, one by one, onto the table surface so that their faces remain unexposed.
Before the players receive their cards, they must make their wagers. Chips can be purchased directly from the dealer before cards or dealt. They may also be bought at the casino cage or brought from other table. Almost universally, white chips are valued at 1 unit ($1, £1, €1, etc.), red chips are worth 5, green ones are 25, and black are 100. Higher denominations are also available in blue, brown, and other colors.
To make a bet, chips are placed in the betting circle in front of each player. Bets are subject to posted table limits, both minimum and maximum. If more than one chip is bet, they must be stacked on top of each other, in order, from the lowest denomination on top to the highest on the bottom. A “tip bet” may also be made for the dealer by placing a separate chip on the edge of the circle closest to the dealer. It will be played as part of the total bet and collected at the end of the hand by the dealer, win or lose. In case of a “push” (tie), all bets are returned, including any tips.
After the shuffle and cut, the dealer “burns” one or more cards by placing them sight unseen into the discard tray to his/her right. Once the actual dealing begins, players are not allowed to touch their wagered chips again until the hand has been completely played out. This rule prevents players from “past posting,” a method of cheating by adding money to the original wager after the result of a hand is already known.
Playing the Hand
According to the House Rules, the cards may be dealt either face up or face down. In the face up game, which is most common, players are usually restricted from touching the cards. When they are allowed to handle them, they must use only one hand and the cards may not be held anywhere except above the surface of the table.
Again, this is a precaution to guard against such cheating as “mucking” (adding cards), “palming” (removing cards), or “marking” cards for future identification. It has the added advantage of allowing players to see exactly what cards have been player, which is a necessary prerequisite for “card counting”—a way to gain an advantage over the house.
In the face down game, often played in tournament Blackjack, players have some choices regarding how they handle the cards. In some versions, both cards are dealt face down and the player decides which one to turn over and which one to keep in the hole. More often, however, one card is dealt face up and the other face down. In this case, the player may peek at the hole card or choose to expose both cards. When splitting, doubling down, or claiming a blackjack, both cards must be turned face up.
After the deal, play proceeds in much the way as it does in the basic game. Dealers, however, are not allowed to act based solely on verbal commands such as “hit” or “stand.” Every action is monitored and filmed by casino surveillance, so the player must make a hand sign indicating the desired action. Pointing to the cards or scratching on the table means “hit,” waving a hand above the cards and shaking the head means “stand,” etc. In case of any dispute, the video footage can be referred to, protecting both the player and the house from any false claims.
When doubling down or splitting, the player has the option to purchase additional chips, if needed. Some casinos allow cash wagers, too, in which case the dealer will call out “money plays” to alert the pit boss, who will confirm and approve the bet—yet another precautionary measure.
When the time comes to leave the table, between hands any player can push a stack of chips to the middle of the table beyond the betting circles and ask to “color up”—receiving higher denominated chips in exchange, rather than walking away with lots of smaller ones. It is customary to tip the dealer at this time, too, by pushing a chip toward her/him and saying “for you” or “for the dealer.” Casino dealers depend on tips for the bulk of their income; contrary to popular belief, most of them want players to win and tip, rather lose their bankrolls.